Alan Truex: In the Golden Age of Team Owners, Mark Cuban can be president

One of the criticisms of Hollywood’s celebrated takedown of the NFL, North Dallas Forty, is a scene in which a team owner strolls into the locker room and speaks to the players.

“That would never happen,” was the chorus from NFL front offices across the country when the Nick Nolte-starred vehicle opened in 1979.  At the time, I was covering the NFL beat for the Atlanta Journal, and I rarely saw the Falcons’ owner, Rankin Smith.

Like all NFL owners, Rankin kept out of the public eye.  He would pop into the press box from time to time, and usually sober. But it was unthinkable that he might step inside the workers’ quarters at any time they were there.

Commissioner Pete Rozelle was the owners’ front man, and they liked it that way.  Even the most forward among them, Al Davis, was quiet and usually unseen.  He was often in the Raiders’ locker room – had his own cubicle with his name, “Coach Davis,” at the top of it — but for the most part he avoided reporters and cameras.

That was decades before Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones showed how an entrepreneurial oligarch could himself be a star vehicle.  Even if he knew much less football than Al Davis.

Jones saw, as no football owner ever had, the value of free media coverage.  He would make sure the Dallas Cowboys were being discussed wherever groups  were gathering in the Metroplex.  He saw billions in marketing revenue for his football team as reality TV.

Frankly, I doubt Jones is losing sleep over his fellow owners sending a letter threatening to punish him for criticizing Commissioner Goodell.

Al Davis somewhere might be smiling about this.  Davis seemed to be constantly on the wrong side of morality and the right side of the law, as irony would have it.

Jones strikes me as much the same type, though far more transparent and genial.

There’s a hint of populism here, as he assails Goodell for demanding a private jet for the rest of his life.  Greed is not as popular as it once was.  Jerry noticed.

If ever there was a golden age of sports ownership, this is it.  Nothing rises in value as constantly and consistently as teams in the NFL, NBA or MLB.  The owner is king.  Perhaps, if he wants to, he could even become president.

Mark Cuban, neighbor of Jerry Jones and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, asks: Since America has become comfortable with novice politicians seeking its highest office, why not me?

Cuban is a true Maverick, never one to follow someone else’s protocol.  He’s outspoken, irreverent and perhaps too slippery to label.

He’s pondering a run for the oval office in 2020, and he’s allied himself to both Hillary Clinton and Steve Bannon.  Strange bedfellows indeed.

Last year Cuban campaigned for Hillary and called Donald Trump “a twitter troll.”  But two weeks after the November election, Cuban was seen with Bannon at the King Cole Bar in New York’s St. Regis Hotel.

Bannon has encouraged Cuban to run in 2020 as a Democrat.  Cuban has said that if he ran for president it would be as an independent.

I guess he was encouraged by how well that went for his erstwhile friend Ross Perot, who sold him a majority stake in the Mavericks for $285 million in 2000.

In May 2010, Perot, who kept 5% ownership in the Mavs, sued Cuban, claiming he’d mismanaged the team into near insolvency.  The case was dismissed the following year when the Mavs won the NBA Championship.

Cuban’s ideology appears to be a disparate mix of business-friendly economics,  libertarian social policy and hard-edged Ayn Rand conservatism.

His unique appeal may be his willingness to talk to those of all political persuasions.  

He told Breitbart News: “I learn from people who disagree with me.  I want people to challenge me.  That’s how I get smarter.”

He’s been smart for a long time actually.  He entered the University of Pittsburgh after skipping his senior year in high school.

He moved to Dallas in 1982.  His first job was bartending.  His second one was selling computer software for the first company in Dallas to sell it.  With support from some of his customers at Your Business Software, he started his own company, MicroSolutions.  In 1990 he sold his company to CompuServe, a subsidiary of H&R Block, for $6 million.

And in another ten years he had enough money to buy the Mavs.

He’s arguably been as successful a tycoon as Trump, and even more histrionic, which might cause us to pause.  He has been fined $1.6 million by the NBA for 13 incidents of criticizing referees and the league office.  He’s also been fined for yelling at players on opposing teams.

His superstar player, Dirk Nowitzki, has said: “He’s got to learn to control himself . . . and not yell at the officials the whole game.  I don’t think that helps us.  He sits there right by our bench.  I think it’s a bit much.”

When a politician has no record of public service, the voter looks for clues to  political makeup by observing how he or she functions in business.  With Trump, I was encouraged that on Apprentice he always fired the one who deserved it most.

With Cuban, I look at how he’s managed the Mavericks.  It’s something of a mixed bag.

He was ahead of his time when he supplied his team with a custom-made jet.   He significantly eased the travel burdens of these long-legged athletes.  He added to his team’s attractiveness as a destination of the most talented free agents.  I’m thinking maybe he understands the value of infrastructure.

But I am troubled by the emotional outbursts.  A 59-year-old man should have more poise.  Anyone who looks dangerous and out of control on the basketball court is not someone I want holding the nuclear football.

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